Plenary Council concludes with united vote

WelCom August 2022 The Catholic Church in Australia has agreed a series of landmark reforms on the role of women, a new translation of the Roman Missal and the wider…

WelCom August 2022

President of the Plenary Council of Australia, and newly appointed President of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference Archbishop Timothy Costelloe sbd delivers the homily during the Closing Mass of the Second Assembly of the Fifth Plenary Council at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney. Photo: ACBC

The Catholic Church in Australia has agreed a series of landmark reforms on the role of women, a new translation of the Roman Missal and the wider use of the ‘third rite’ of confession. 

These were voted through on a final day of voting at the week-long plenary assembly held in Sydney in July. 

Bishops and members of the Plenary Council agreed that the Church in Australia would ‘implement’ female deacons, should the universal law of the Church be modified to allow it, and that women will be part of ‘decision-making structures’ of governance. Each diocese would commit to finding ‘new opportunities for women to participate in ministries’. 

A Plenary Council is the highest form of gathering for a local Church. Final decisions need to be signed off by the Pope. 

The agreement on the role of women marked a dramatic turnaround in the Council process. Some members had threatened to abandon the assembly gathering earlier in the week, when motions on women failed to reach a two-thirds majority. Following this initial vote, on 6 July, some members held a silent protest inside the hall. After crisis talks were held by the bishops, the council drew
up new motions on the topic of ‘witnessing to the equal dignity of women and men’, which obtained a two-thirds majority on 8 July. For any motion to be successful at the Plenary Council, it must receive both a two-thirds majority both among the members and the bishops. 

During the last day of voting, the Council also passed a motion calling for a new English translation of the Roman Missal in Australia, to ensure it is ‘sensitive to the call for language that communicates clearly and includes all in the assembly’. 

Another significant vote came in the request for a wider use of the ‘Third Form of the Rite of Penance’, known as ‘general absolution’. This is a way to offer reconciliation to groups rather than individuals. 

The Council also agreed motions on a range of topics, including a ‘national framework for formation in Catholic Social Teaching’ and a commitment for every parish and church body to take action on the environment through Laudato’ si’s action plans. 

The Council pledged to tackle a ‘culture of clericalism’ by including lay people in major decisions and ensuring governance is carried out in a synodal manner through structures such as pastoral councils. 

Speaking at the closing Mass, Plenary Council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB encouraged Council members to continue relying upon the Holy Spirit as they move into the future. The experience of the early Church at Pentecost is one that needs to be taken up by the Church each day, he said.

‘The enlivening of the infant Church, gathered in prayer in the upper room, was not a ‘once-only’ event. It is the daily reality of the Church and the enduring foundation of the Church’s identity.’

Sources: London Tablet, Supplied.